Bristol to create 66 new special school places

The new places will go some way towards addressing Bristol’s chronic shortage of special school places, but it’s still unclear when the places will be available.

Illustration: Florence Jackson

Senior council officials have signed off plans to create 66 new special school places in Bristol amid a large shortage.

Fifty “specialist placements” will be built at Venturers Academy in Withywood and 16 will be created at Easton Primary after the officers gave their permission for the work to proceed. The extra special school places in south and east Bristol will go some way towards addressing a shortfall of around 250 places in the city.

But it is unclear when the places will be ready and what it means for the large number of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) who are unsure whether they will have places at special schools in September.

Bristol City Council published the decisions about the SEND places on its website on Monday, 17 May, but little detail was provided other than the names of the schools and the number of extra places.

It is possible the 50 extra places at Venturers Academy refers to a new 50-place emergency special needs school for the Early Years and Key Stage 1 age group due to open in September at the academy’s former site at Gay Elms. But the council chose not to clarify the situation when asked.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service sent a list of eight questions to the local authority on Tuesday, 18 May, seeking further information about the extra special school places, when they would be ready, and how many children who are legally entitled to a special school place do not have one at this time, but the council did not provide the information sought.

Instead, on Friday, May 21, it provided a response dating from February, stating that the number of children eligible for SEND places changes regularly and that in some cases a mainstream school with specialist support is the best option. The council added that they are putting in place “an improved system of support” for children and young people with SEND, which includes “enhanced modifications” in mainstream schools, provision of specialist equipment and access to advice from specialist school staff and external agencies. They added that they’ve also set up a new panel to oversee the process of matching children and young people to specialist placements as they become available.

“Last year, cabinet approved the SEND sufficiency and capital programme which will invest over £28million in Bristol’s special schools, and result in major improvements to current special schools, as well as significantly increasing the number of specialist places available for students with SEND.

“This programme includes new-builds, as well as the modification and extension of current buildings, increasing capacity of our specialist schools, and creating more specialist school placements in mainstream schools. However, our plans to increase specialist places across the city have experienced significant and unavoidable delays due to the pandemic.

“Works underway include the relocation of Elmfield School for Deaf Children (Early and Primary years) into a fully refurbished building, plus a new-build for Claremont Special School. Both these projects will result in buildings that appropriately meet the needs of children and young people with SEND.”

A cabinet report from September 2020 proposed the addition of 250 new special school places across 11 existing schools, 54 extra places at Elmfield School for Deaf Children and eight more at Claremont Special School. It said the 250 new places “might” be ready by September 2021.

The Bristol Cable